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‘Boys of Summerville’ showcases local talent, premiers in ET

The Summerville Hornets held their own against competitive men’s softball teams throughout East Tennessee…on film.

In reality, the fictional softball team portrayed in the movie “Boys of Summerville” got drilled by each team they faced during filming.

Summerville director Brooks Benjamin said the softball teams the fictional team played were actual teams around the East Tennessee area. Teams like RSI, Sam’s Avengers and Martin’s Funeral Home from Knoxville, Oak Ridge and Harriman are seen on film.

“We put out a bulletin for East Tennessee softball teams who would participate in scenes, and we got a great response so we picked several teams to play,” he said. “Ultimately they slaughtered us on film, but, through the magic of editing, it looks like we pulled through. They were great to work with.”

Knoxville actor David Keith had a part in the movie, as do local actors David Dwyer, Joe and Amy Casterline, Mitch Moore, Wesley Murphy, Allison Varnes and Leighann Jernigan. The production was filmed primarily in Roane County and Harriman.

Dwyer said the movie is about a young man named Peter Davis who comes back to his small Southern town called Summerville after his estranged father has died. Peter, who became an investment banker while away, is fixing up his family home to sell and is in the process of settling the estate.

“This is the story of him reconnecting with his past and resolving feelings with his father and reconnecting with his wild and wacky friends still playing softball. He had a problem thinking his dad loved softball more than him, and he never got it,” Dwyer said.

Peter must decide whether to remain in his hometown and build a new life or to leave again and start life someplace else.

Dwyer said a lot of the movie revolves around softball. “It’s a wonderfully wacky and beautiful story. These characters make you happy,” he said.

Director Brooks Benjamin said his brother had the idea of creating a comedy about men’s softball. “When we were little, our father played very competitive men’s softball. One of the things we remembered was sitting in fast food restaurants and a men’s softball team would walk in, and it was like Tom Cruise walking in. These guys were local celebrities,” he said. “We thought we could play off that aspect of men’s softball and how big it is, especially in the South. It’s huge. In my mind, it’s as big as football.”

Several of the actors in the movie are students of Dwyer’s. “Wes Murphy played Rocky, a crazy comic lead. Another wonderful student of mine, Allison Varnes, is the romantic lead. Leighann Jernigan is another student of mine who plays the maniacal ex-girlfriend of the star. Mitch Murphy and Joe Casterline are softball players,” he said.

Dwyer plays the mayor of the town and the coach of the softball team. His character has a trophy wife who loves to sing on a pole. “Since I own half the town I put up a pole anywhere she wants to sing. The only song she can sing is the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ She doesn’t know all of the words but nobody cares,” he said.

Dwyer said the movie is a low-budget Screen Actor’s Guild film and being a member of S.A.G. meant he and other union actors like David Keith could participate. “Just the undertaking of making a movie is huge. It helps with a great script, great idea and great characters, and you can populate it locally,” he said. “Predominately, all these actors live right here in East Tennessee. I’d say 90 percent of them do.”

Other established actors and actresses participated in the movie. Natalie Canerday who played in “Slingblade” and “October Sky’ is in the movie. “We flew in a couple of very strong, up and coming actors from L.A. who had been in several TV shows, including ‘My Name is Earl’ and ‘King of Queens,’ and they were going to act as day players. We filmed all their scenes in one day. We did that to save money,” Benjamin said of Canerday, Catherine Campion and Kevin Michael Walsh. “The budget was 10 times as much as the first, but we were still operating on an extremely small budget.”

Benjamin said in the initial stages of writing, the script began to evolve into a mock documentary about a corporation coming into a town and threatening its industry. Eventually he tore up those drafts and rewrote the story with a character-driven plot about ball players.

“We spent a week in their lives, giving them conflicts, relationships to build and let these characters be themselves. Don’t be drawn into this huge Hollywood plot. It’s low concept, not a big Hollywood concept. You can’t put the synopsis into 10 words or less. It’s really just about these characters,” Benjamin said.

The director said that as people read the script, they fell in love with the characters. “They were extremely likeable. They had flaws, they weren’t perfect but you could easily relate to every one of them,” Benjamin said.

The director praised his crew, which he said was very small compared to even a lot of independent movies, and there were plenty of volunteers who helped out. “I think the small crew ended up being a better way to go. It almost contributed to a family atmosphere. Everyone knew everyone. There weren’t any assistants who no one knew,” he said. “A lot of friendships formed. Everyone was pitching in and helping each other.”

The director said preproduction/filming lasted 21 days in June of 2007. “We hammered out scenes quickly,” Benjamin said.

Moore said that even with the quick pace everyone worked as a team. “Over the course of a month, the cast members became like brothers. About the time production ended, we were starting to have fun with it each other,” he said.

Benjamin said the next step, editing, was the routinely long, drawn-out part. “You can literally make another movie out of the footage you have from this one. You have so much great footage. We had to trim 45 minutes from the cut I showed cast members because of time. We had a lot of scenes we wanted in it,” he said.

Jim Rogers of Knoxville, who Benjamin described as a “musical genius, Mozart-type” composed the music for the film. Several East Tennessee bands also pitched in with their music. “We wanted an upbeat, Southern rock feel, something fun with energy,” Benjamin said. “We were able to get music from American Plague and Central Function.”

Out-of-state bands also were recruited for the film. Bands like Black Water, Blazing Grace and the DB Bryant Band have music on the soundtrack.

Murphy, a 2001 Maryville High grad who earned a degree in communications/theater degree from the University of Tennessee in 2005, left Blount County to pursue acting in Los Angeles six months after “Boys of Summerville” filming wrapped. Benjamin has done with a low budget everything a big movie would do, Murphy said.

“I think it’s going to be hilarious. The clips get a good laugh from a very critical audience - like my parents,” he said.

Murphy’s character’s name is Rocky Collins. “I’m telling everybody my character is crazy. Everyone asks, ‘who did you base your character off of?’ and I tell them it’s a combination of Chuck Norris for action and Antonio Banderas for the ladies,” he said with a laugh.

Laughter was often heard on the set. “There were so many times on set we would just be cracking up. The stuff I say is ridiculous, but Rocky believes every bit of what he’s saying,” Murphy said.

Murphy was among three people vying for the role of Rocky, and the actor said he was having a difficult time figuring out the character, a mullet-wearing rebel. “I went to Wal-Mart and got a mullet wig, went to Goodwill and got clothes and walked around for a day or two trying to develop the character,” he said. “I worked out in a Metallica shirt. I had tight blue jeans on and put myself on tape, sent it to the director, and he called and said I got the part.”

He then took six months to grow a mullet of his own for the production. It hurt him when he auditioned for other roles. “I showed up for a commercial in Nashville with a mullet, and I stepped in the room, and they looked at me and just said, ‘No.’”

He got plenty of ribbing and harassment from friends and family. “My brother told me I looked like a child molester,” Murphy said. “It was a commitment with the mullet.”

Murphy said his role was a phenomenal opportunity. “I don’t think something like this comes around often,” he said. “It was amazing. I’m still tickled to death I got the chance to do that. It was a good opportunity.”

The movie premier, complete with red carpet, is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, April 17, at Regal’s Downtown West Cinema in Knoxville. Wider distribution is still being worked out for the film, Dwyer said.

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